Thursday, August 7, 2014

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places - Reflections on Parashat Va'etchanan 5774

In this week's Torah portion, Moses makes a very mystical (dare we say delphic?) promise:
Guard [the mitzvoth] and do them, for they are your wisdom and insight in the eyes of the peoples, that when they hear of these laws, they will say: what a wise and discerning people is the nation of Israel! For what other great nation has the One True G-d so close to them, as is Hashem our G-d, when we call out to Him? And what nation has a more just code of laws than this Torah which I place before you today? (Deut. 4:6 ff)
Moses is saying that the extent to which we keep the Torah is the extent to which we will be respected by the other nations. 

Say what? Our common Jewish experience, throughout our history and right up to today, has been the exact, polar opposite. The nations don't respect us; they despise us. And the more we cling to our holy lifestyle and values, the more we assert out unique weltanshauung, the more we insist on the right to merely exist, the more scorn, ignominy and abuse they heap upon us. 

Boycott. Divest. Sanctions. Blood libels. Jewish soldiers kill Arab babies for sport. The world would be at peace if the UN hadn't created the State of Israel. Hitler should have finished the job. Israelis are Nazis. Jews commit genocide. Jews commit war crimes. Israel is an apartheid state. Jews own Hollywood. Jews own the newspapers. Jews run the world. 

I'm not feelin' the love.

So we must ask: did Moses get it wrong?

Let's sharpen the question: We have a stirring prophecy from Zephaniah, a prophetic contemporary of Jeremiah. He foretold that, "At that time I will bring you, and at that time I will gather you in, and I will give you renown and praise among the Nations, when I bring you back from your captivity before your very eyes, says Hashem." (Zephaniah 3:20) 

We expand on this idea in our morning prayers: "Show us a good omen, and gather in the exiles from the four corners of the earth, that the Nations of the world will recognize and know that You are the One True G-d."

News flash: almost half of the world's Jews have already been gathered in to the Land of Israel, and if current trends hold, the majority of the world's Jews will be in Israel within about ten years. The diaspora is over, doomed. We are witnessing, indeed living, the era of the ingathering of the exiles - that much is clear. But...where is the miraculous epiphany among the nations that's supposed to accompany the Great Return? 

..."In a shocking development, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, addressed a rare joint session of the General Assembly and Security Council, stating simply: 'Oops! We were wrong. The Land of Israel does indeed belong to the People of Israel, bequeathed to them by the Gcd of Israel. (I don't know why we didn't make that connection before...) Anyway, no hard feelings, right? and...could I get that gefilte fish recipe? I've secretly loved that stuff for years.'"


Jews have been trying to get non-Jews to like us since forever. 'Why do you hate us?' we ask in different ways in every generation. Like immature, moody teenagers, some Jews try to get recognition and acceptance from society by modeling the behavior of the pack. If we dress like you, talk like you, eat your food, buy into your values, laugh at your jokes (even when we're the butt of them), then maybe you'll like us, right? But, alas, it hasn't worked.

Some Jews sought an economic solution to Jew-hatred. Socialism declared the capitalist to be the common enemy, and the Jewish and gentile proletariat would unite to fight the ills of economic inequality. Only that didn't work either. Stalin's bloody purges of the 1930s effectively cleansed the Communist Party of the many Jews that were instrumental to the initial success of the Communist Revolution. The purges were, in essence, a Red pogrom.

Others sought a political solution. If only Jews had their own country, then we would stand as brothers, shoulder to shoulder, with the nations of the world in dignity. Then we'll be worthy of their love. 

Some delusional Israelis still cling to the vain belief that one day, Jews will sit in the shuks of Damascus, Beirut and Amman, drinking Turkish coffee, passing around a hookah and playing sheshbesh with their adoring Arab neighbors. We see how well that's worked out: rockets and missiles raining down on our heads, and murderers popping up out of tunnels in our backyards.

We've been looking for love in all the wrong places.

The truth is that Moses and Zephaniah were not wrong; we moderns merely misinterpret them. 

When this conundrum was posed to Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, he answered as follows: Are we naive enough to think that, as we Jews return home, the Nations of the world will roll out the red carpet in a spontaneous outpouring of love? That the Arabs will pick flowers for us, and Europe will knit us quilts and cozies?

Of course we will have vexing new social, political, economic and diplomatic challenges; in light of the fact that we've been out of the game for 2,000 years, it's only to be expected. But these are good problems to have; they are the problems of self-governance.

Rabbi Soloveitchik famously wrote that there are three unique perspectives to understanding and interpreting the history of Western Civilization: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. All three have staunch adherents who are unshakable in their faiths; but the three worldviews are mutually incompatible, meaning only one can be true in the end.

The nations are genuinely alarmed at the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland. The fulfillment of the prophetic verses of Zephaniah - by definition - demolishes the pillars of the other faith systems. The consequences of this reality are too frightening to bear, so they must fight us. 

But their ferocious hostility to Israel and the Jewish People, the very fact that they oppose our presence on the Land, the absurdity of their arguments, the monstrous lies they disseminate; within all that hot mess is an implicit, reflexive recognition of our worldview, of Torah, and of the G-d to whom we cling. 

"...that the Nations of the world will recognize and know that You are the One True G-d." Their thunderous objections are the very recognition of which Moses and Zephaniah speak. That recognition won't come in the form of kisses and hugs (who ever said it would?) but in a grudging resentment; an unarticulated respect that can never be openly conceded.

To be sure, there are many gentiles, especially among the Evangelical Christian communities and the persecuted Arab Christian minorities, as well as some isolated Muslim voices, who recognize the Hand of G-d in the success story that is the State of Israel and the improbable survival of the Jewish People. Gcd bless and strengthen them and may their numbers grow.

But most follow the money: 1.5 billion Muslims on one side of the scale versus a mere 15 million Jews on the other - yep, we're throwing our lot in the Arabs, we're backing the heavy favorite. The British, for example, have been prostituting themselves for petrodollars since the 1920s; they've been thoroughly co-opted. Is it any wonder that in England today the most common baby name for newborns is Mohammed?

But the numbers don't tell the whole story. When we Jews are loyal to our mission - when we keep the mitzvoth, and love the Lcrd our Gcd with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our might - we consistently beat the odds.

So don't fret too much about the haters; the louder the objections, the more certain we can be that Gcd and history are on our side. 

Shabbat Shalom.

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